70: Saved by a Strange Light

70: Saved by a Strange Light

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Saved by a Strange Light

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

~Charlotte Bronte

I was living in the lonely, windswept cinder hills northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona as caretaker of a remote ranch. My friends who owned the place had taken a long trip and left me in charge of their dog, cat and houseplants.

The primitive log cabin was heated by a cozy Seefire wood stove. It was situated seven miles from a paved highway, thirty-five miles from town and almost two miles from the nearest occupied dwelling. I had lived without electricity, phone and indoor plumbing before, and I loved the simplicity.

One day it started snowing pretty hard. The cabin owners had told me some people had to be evacuated in helicopters after fifty-six inches of snow fell in one night the year before. According to the forecast on the car radio, this new storm promised to be somewhat less intense, but I knew I’d probably be trapped if I didn’t do something to keep the three-hundred-foot driveway clear.

I also wanted to keep the road open, if possible, because it would not be plowed. I decided that I would drive back and forth, once per hour, to the top of the north face of a lava flow about three-quarters of a mile south of the cabin. The south face would melt much faster, I knew, and the four-wheel-drive traffic from there to the paved road would help break open the rest of my escape route.

By late afternoon, I had made several round trips. The storm was showing no signs of tapering off, and I guessed that I might have to keep on going back and forth for several more hours for my time and effort already spent to have been worthwhile. As I headed out on the next run, however, it was still daylight and not too cold, and I didn’t bother with boots, hat, scarf, gloves or extra layers under my jacket. After all, I would be in my nice, warm car.

I made it to the top of the lava flow and started to turn around when the rear wheels slid into loose cinder gravel. I shifted into low-range four-wheel drive and tried to get the car back on the roadbed, but all I did was sink the rear wheels deeper into the cinders.

After shoveling snow from around the front wheels and lying on my belly pulling snow from under the vehicle, my clothing was completely wet. The car would not budge, and it was obvious that the only way I’d get home was on foot. Spending the night in the vehicle was out of the question since I hadn’t brought any bedding. It would have to sit where it was until I could find someone with a truck to pull it out of the cinders.

The daylight was fading as I started walking north. I’d been so preoccupied trying to free the car that I hadn’t noticed how much more snow had fallen. The wind was blowing harder, too. When I reached the bottom of the lava flow, the drifting snow had almost covered my tire tracks. I trudged on until the tracks vanished. Soon I was exhausted from walking in thigh-deep snow.

It was nearly dark, the storm had turned into a blizzard, my feet and ears were freezing, and I was still at least half a mile from the cabin. Visibility was near zilch when facing north—the direction of the cabin.

I paused to gather my strength and focus my will on getting back alive. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was faint from hunger. I thought of sitting down to rest and turned to face the south, with the wind at my back. It was then that I noticed a pack of coyotes had been tailing me. They were very close.

A wave of terror washed over me. There were five of them. I knew that if I didn’t keep moving, they’d be on me in nothing flat. I stood there in the blizzard with eyes closed and head bowed, praying for help to get home safely.

When I raised my head and opened my eyes, I felt calm. Then I saw that a beam of light was shining from behind my head. I quickly turned around to look for the source of the beam. As I turned, so did the light, showing straight ahead for about fifty yards like a powerful flashlight.

I called out, “Who’s there?” and kept looking around for the source of this light. The combination of terror and awe that I felt gave me a rush of adrenaline, and I started moving again.

The beam was like a beacon coming from behind my head. No one else was out there; no houses were within a mile of where I was standing. I’d seen no vehicles and heard nothing but the wind. The snow was so deep by then it would have been impossible for anything but a snowmobile or snowcat to get around, anyway, and they make a lot of noise.

I gave up trying to find the light source and just used it to spot a landmark: the top strand of a wire fence, still visible above the drifts to the north. This was the south fence line of the ranch where the cabin was. I set my course, and the beam turned itself off.

The night was black except for the reflection off the snow of a little bit of moonlight. Soon I was at the fence, and within an hour I reached the cabin. The hard work of walking through the deep snow had kept me warm enough to survive. Never had I been so happy to reach a destination!

To this day, more than twenty years after this amazing do-or-die experience, I have no idea how my prayers for help were answered that night.

~Suzu Belle

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